How To Navigate Conflict In The Workplace To Improve Mental Well-being

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Workplace conflicts can arise for various reasons, such as misunderstandings, communication breakdowns, different opinions, or competing priorities. While conflict is a natural part of human interaction, it can have significant repercussions on mental well-being if left unaddressed. In this blog, I’ll explore the causes of conflict in the workplace, how it negatively impacts mental health, and provide tips on how to handle workplace conflict to improve mental well-being.

What causes conflict in the workplace?

Various factors, including personality differences, competition for resources, and unequal distribution of power or responsibility, can all cause conflict in the workplace. These conflicts can escalate and cause tension in the workplace, leading to negative outcomes for mental well-being.

How workplace conflicts negatively impact the mental well-being of a team:

Unaddressed conflict in the workplace can lead to increased stress, burnout, reduced innovation, and higher employee turnover. It can also have a damaging effect on the overall morale and cohesion of a team. The negative impact of conflict on mental well-being can be particularly pronounced in the current climate, as many employees face increased stress and burnout.

Workplace conflicts can cause employees to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed, leading to burnout. Stress can impact both physical and mental health and reduce overall productivity. Prolonged conflict in the workplace can lead to burnout. This state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion can result in a decline in job performance and increased absenteeism. Conflict can create a toxic work environment that stifles creativity and innovation, reducing productivity and a higher employee turnover rate. All these factors mean costly company expenses for hiring and retention and harmful mental health conditions for employees. 

How to handle workplace conflict

Conflict in the workplace can be complex, but some steps can be taken to address it and improve mental well-being. This section will provide tips for handling conflict in remote, in-person, and hybrid situations.

Remote situations:

1. Encourage employees to communicate openly and honestly with one another, even if they are working remotely. This can help to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts from escalating. For example, consider using the sandwich method when providing feedback or communicating. This method involves placing a request or desire for change between two positive statements to prevent the person receiving the information from getting defensive. 

2. Schedule regular check-ins with team members to discuss any issues causing conflict. This can provide an opportunity to resolve disputes before they become more serious.

3. Technology, such as video conferencing and collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack, facilitate communication and collaboration among team members. Unlike email, these methods allow for more real-time communication between remote teams, creating a feeling of closeness and inclusion. Similarly, a video chat will enable people to read facial cues often missing from many digital methods of communication. These visual cues are crucial when navigating conflict and building empathy. 

In-person situations:

1. Encourage employees to actively listen to one another and avoid interrupting or talking over one another. You can help your team learn active listening skills with training or by engaging individuals in the discussion by asking questions throughout to keep everyone involved. Active listening skills involve eye contact, avoiding distractions, and repeating what you’ve heard for clarity. Often, being listened to can help reduce conflicts and prevent misunderstandings from escalating. A manager can help employees through this process by asking the right questions and providing a quiet space with no distractions for the conversation.

2. Foster a positive work environment that promotes employee collaboration, trust, and respect. Having shared goals and benchmarks that the team creates together is a powerful tool for creating a feeling of cohesion and cooperation rather than a top-down drill sergeant approach to work. When there is a shared endpoint that all team members have an active role in creating, there is more excitement and buy-in to work together to achieve it. Having clearly defined responsibilities and roles can also help.

3. If conflicts arise, consider mediating the situation to help resolve the issue.

Hybrid situations:

1. Establish clear communication protocols, such as regular check-ins, to ensure that all employees know each other's needs and priorities. Clearly define the correct communication channels for feedback, responsibility allocation, or assistance requests. 

2. Encourage teamwork and collaboration to foster a positive work environment and reduce the likelihood of conflicts. This can be done by having quarterly team-building events, bringing in facilitators to help your team learn new skills together and make memories, or celebrating eachother and practicing gratitude openly within the office.

3. Promote flexibility in the workplace to allow for a balanced work-life integration for all employees, reducing stress and potential conflicts.

Applying the Dolphin Model

The Dolphin model provides a helpful framework for leaders handling workplace conflict. Leaders can improve mental well-being and create a positive work environment by leading with compassion and understanding and working to find a solution that benefits everyone.

Jellyfish leaders avoid conflict. They are passive and may avoid taking action when a conflict arises, which can escalate the situation. Shark leaders try to bulldoze the conflict and fix everything rather than teaching their team valuable skills to navigate conflicts respectfully. They may use their power or position to solve the conflict rather than address the underlying issue. A Dolphin leader leads with empathy, understanding, and emotional intelligence. They listen to all sides of a conflict and work to find a solution that is in the best interest of everyone involved. They also work to build trust and create a positive work environment.  These leaders prioritize the mental well-being of their team and don’t expect conflicts to get better on their own as a Jellyfish leader would. Unlike shark leaders, Dolphin leaders can help as mediators without controlling the situation. 

Get an outside opinion.

In addition to implementing the strategies outlined in this blog, companies can also benefit from working with outside experts and facilitators to improve their conflict resolution, resiliency, and communication skills. As a keynote speaker and facilitator, I offer insights and tools to help modern companies thrive. So, why wait? Invest in your team's well-being and work with me today to improve workplace conflict resolution and mental health.

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